Friday, November 14, 2014

State Rep's Position On Women Just Wrong

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, november 14, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            Jay Barrows is a good state representative who has served his communities of Mansfield, Foxboro and Norton with distinction over the last eight years.  He is smart, savvy, and the kind of behind-the-scenes worker who gets the job done with little fanfare or publicity.

            But last week, Jay royally screwed up.

            While discussing the narrow victory by Governor-Elect Charlie Baker over Martha Coakley, Barrows said Baker talked about more relevant issues and didn’t get bogged down discussing the alleged “war on women”.  He suggested that even women were turned off by Coakley’s concentration on the pay inequity for women in the workplace.

            “They’re sick of all this talk about equal pay and discrimination against women”, the veteran legislator said.  He noted the issue is not a problem at the insurance agency he owns.  When asked about studies that show the inequity clearly exists, Barrows questioned their validity, asking, “Do you believe everything you read?”

            No Representative, I don’t.  In fact, I could barely believe your comments when I read them. 

Barrows may have only been serving for eight years, but the outdated, outmoded, prehistoric attitude he projects when he suggests the issue of equal pay for women is bad politics has been hanging around for generations.  And it is every bit as wrong as he is.

From a political viewpoint, it should be pointed out Baker did indeed improve over his 2010 performance with women voters by some nine percentage points.  But Coakley still beat him among women by 15% in a race that saw her lose by less than two percentage points statewide.  For Barrows to even hint that gap closed because women are tired of hearing they should get equal pay displays the kind of insensitivity and lack of understanding that keeps this problem from being solved.

It should also be noted Baker talked about the equal pay issue during the campaign.  He did not play it up as much as Coakley, largely because it was more of an issue to her political base than his.  But Baker agrees it is a problem.

Perhaps Barrows has some statistics he can share, but there seems to be little in the way of facts showing women were “sick” of hearing they should get the same pay for the same job.  But many women – as well as men – might be feeling ill that in this day and age, some public officials still just don’t get it.

Barrows said during his four terms as a state representative he has never heard a woman complain about unequal pay and never received a letter on the issue.  Now in fairness, that may in part be because there is little a state legislator can do directly to correct this basic unfairness, as opposed to a chief executive like a governor.

But given the position Rep. Barrows so clearly articulated last week, why would anyone even bother to talk to him about it?  People and politicians who don’t believe a problem exists are unlikely to try and do anything to solve it.  If you were a woman experiencing pay discrimination in the workplace, would you go to Representative Barrows to tell your story?

Although something tells me he might have gotten a letter or two on the topic this past week, and might get even more in the months ahead.

It is also important to draw the distinction between the so-called” War on Women” and the equal pay issue.  The war phrase has become a bit of a political catch-all, used more to create anger and fear than really pinpoint any particular problem.  But the “glass ceiling” for women and the fact they make on average 78% of what men get paid for the same jobs is something borne out by careful study and statistics.

Equal pay and treatment of women is neither a Democratic or Republican issue.  It is hard to imagine anyone getting sick of debating something so important to everyone, especially the good voters of the First Bristol district represented so ably by Jay Barrows.

If in the past eight years Jay Barrows has never run across a female constituent upset over the equal pay issue, then I respectfully suggest he needs to get out more often.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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